Helle is a 90-year-old Norwegian knifemaking company that combines traditional designs with very sophisticated dedicated cutlery steels. I’ve been a fan for quite a while, and Helle has won my heart with two models—the Viking, which is patterned after a 1,000-year-old knife found in the tomb of Hrolfgaar the Excessively Quarrelsome and is about as fine a fixed-blade EDC knife as one can find, and the Bleja, a big, strong lockback folder that is damned near the equal of a fixed blade.
The new knife is called the Nord. It’s a bushcraft knife, or a field knife. The Nord is not for working on game, although it can. Nor is it a camp knife, which has a much longer blade, is considerably heavier, and is balanced differently. It’s simply a heavy-duty knife for whatever outdoor tasks fall to its lot. Let us take a closer look.
Helle Nord Specs and Materials
- Blade Length: 5.78 inches
- Handle Length: 5.4 inches
- Overall Weight: 10.2 ounces
- Blade Material: Sandvik 14C28N stainless steel
- Handle Material: Curly Birch
The Nord has a wide, drop-point blade that’s a little more than 5½ inches long and is made of a new stainless steel called Sandvik 14C28N. It’s hardened to Rc 58-60, which is hard. The handle is curly birch, also about 5½ inches long, and is one of the best knife handles I’ve gripped in the 21st century. When you grab this one, it grabs you right back.
(A brief digression about knife handles: Pay a lot of attention to them, because how well they fit your hand dictates how well and how long you can use the knife. If you have to make your hand shift and squirm to get a grip, it’s a bad fit. A week ago, I had to return a very fine Japanese knife because the “ergonomic” handle was something I could not grasp. Be suspicious of any handle that has finger grooves. They are going to fit someone’s fingers perfectly, but there’s a good chance they won’t be your fingers.)
The curly birch in the Nord’s handle is not an oily wood, as are tropical hardwoods like rosewood or cocobolo. After Helle cuts its birch logs, it dries them, and when they’re at the right humidity level, they get soaked in linseed oil for three days before they’re shaped into handle scales. Helle recommends that you apply linseed to the handle every so often to replace the linseed that dries out or is leeched away by water or blood, especially blood, which is very, very bad for knife handles and blades both.
I had not heard of Sandvik 14C28N before, so I did some research and found that it contains 14 percent chromium, which qualifies it as stainless, which means that the Nord is not going to rust. (In one test, a Nord was left in a bucket of salt water for three days plus and was not affected.)
Helle Nord Sharpness and Edge Retention
Unlike a great many stainless knives, the Nord sharpens with extreme ease. I understand that the edge bevel is 22½ degrees, and Helle recommends that you sharpen on a stone by hand. I can’t hold to that fine an angle, so I used a Crock Stick with a 20-degree bevel and spent a few extra minutes establishing the new angle, and the knife got sharp enough to peel the hair off my arm. Sandvik 14C28N is described on knife-steel blogs as being “slightly tougher than D-2,” which is a die-making steel that’s very tough indeed. Edge holding is good; not superior, good. But with something that sharpens this easily, who cares?
Dedicated steels are formulated to make knife blades, and Sandvik 14C28N was chosen for the Nord because Helle decided that rust resistance and easy sharpening were the two properties they wanted most. (Second digression: A dedicated knife steel is one that is developed for use in cutlery. Prior to 2000 or so, nearly all knives were made out of steels that were created for other uses and were later adapted to knives. One example is D2, which started as a die-making steel. Another is 5160, which got its start in automobile leaf springs. Yet a third is 154CM, which was first used in jet engines.)
In the end, what Helle has produced with the Nord is a first-rate heavy-duty knife (even the sheath is well done) that sells for $250 or thereabouts. The Nord is, for all intents and purposes, about as good as anything you can buy unless you spend a hell of a lot more money, which will get you into the wonderful world of the “perfect” alloys. As for me, I have gone through more knives than there are stars in the heavens, and the Nord suits me just fine.